Forest tenure reforms in Indonesia could open door to greater gender equality

Signs that women may benefit from greater access to earnings and education
Women stand in their garden
Lince Latumadina (R) and Yokbet Yawate stand in their garden in Honitetu village, West Seram regency, Maluku province, Indonesia. CIFOR/Ulet Ifansasti

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Forest tenure reforms have had varying degrees of influence on the way governments and communities manage landscape resources in Indonesia, and some changes have benefited women, signaling small steps toward empowerment.

Researchers with the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) recently examined the status of women and land tenure in the Indonesian provinces of Lampung and Maluku to learn more about the impact of national forest tenure reform policies and programs on gender equality.

“Women’s participation in decision making at the household and community level appears to be increasing, although it is still somewhat limited,” said Anne Larson, team leader of Equal Opportunities, Gender Justice and Tenure at CIFOR, whose department led the research.

The Indonesian government’s commitment to include gender mainstreaming in national development was sealed in 2000 through a mandate designed to trickle down into all policies and programs in all ministries. Even before it merged with the Ministry of Environment, the Ministry of Forestry embraced gender mainstreaming, also weaving it throughout policies and programs, a practice that has since continued. Women are encouraged to participate in projects through the Pangarusutamaan Gender (PUG) program, designed to mainstream gender into forest and environmental policies, including those targeting forest tenure.

“While national gender equality policies contributed to gender mainstreaming policies in the forestry sector, national forest tenure reform policies and programs give limited consideration to gender equality and women’s empowerment,” said lead researcher Mia Siscawati, head of the Gender Studies Graduate Program at the University of Indonesia, whose conclusions followed interviews, surveys and focus groups conducted in 16 villages where forest resources are managed under different tenure regimes.

Research was conducted with men and women at national, provincial and local levels in the two provinces.

In Indonesia, forest tenure reforms began in the mid-1980s leading to official recognition through a Constitutional Court ruling in 2013 stipulating that land and forests within customary territories are no longer state-owned. Nevertheless, the implementation of the ruling has faced various obstacles.  In the meantime, other policies relating to forest tenure reforms, especially policies on social forestry, have received more attention in their development and implementation.


National policy changes in forest tenure — which determine occupancy rights and how forest resources can be used, for what duration and under what conditions — have occurred in tandem with efforts to end discrimination against women and girls.

Greater access for women to land and natural resources is central to gender equality efforts, which are occurring at an international level, enshrined in the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a framework of 15 anti-poverty targets that must be met by 2030.

Alongside the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure provide a global policy framework for guidance on rights.

Although Indigenous and rural women make up more than half of the 2.5 billion people who customarily own and use the world’s community lands, they have been largely absent from discussions of  property rights and broader development agendas, according to the 2017 Report of the Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI) on women’s rights to community forests.

Of an assessment of 80 legal frameworks regulating Indigenous and rural women’s community forest rights in 30 developing countries, which covered 78 percent of the developing world’s forests, RRI’s report states that Indonesia is one of only two countries that does not explicitly guarantee women equal protection under the constitution.

However, many parties in Indonesia argue that the Article 27 of  the 1945 constitution of the Republic of Indonesia, which states that “all citizens have equal status before the law,” is one of the basic legal foundations for women’s rights, although it does not specifically distinguish between female and male citizens.

As a signatory of CEDAW in 1984, the country is committed to eliminating discrimination against women in rural areas. Other national gender-specific laws and measures are in place to support gender mainstreaming in the forestry sector.


Researchers used a conceptual framework known as “The Gender Box,” developed by Carol Colfer, a CIFOR senior associate scientist, to examine gender and forest tenure reform.

It allows a systematic analysis of gender roles in forest management at three different levels, which Colfer refers to as macro, meso and micro, to determine how women and men use forest resources and benefit from them.

Macro encompasses consideration of policies, laws and less formal cultural and religious parameters on a global scale. Meso offers a means of analyzing social patterns from landscape to national levels that influence behavior in relation to forests, while micro highlights more detailed clusters of issues, such as local demographics, economic and domestic roles.

“I slightly modified Colfer’s conceptual approach to develop a framework for analysis,” Siscawati said. “In doing so, I considered the intersection of forest tenure reform and gender dimensions and dynamics at all three scales.”

Most tenure and forest governance practices in Indonesia developed around contested processes between the state and forest-dwelling communities, particularly Indigenous Peoples, customary communities and other local communities, she said.

“Many studies as well as policies and programs view ‘community’ as a homogenous entity and little consideration has been given to the way gender, class, ethnicity, religion and other socio-cultural aspects provide critical contributions to the formation of sub-groups within a ‘People’ as well as multiple identities of the members of each sub-group,” she said.

“Therefore, gender-based injustices in forest tenure and forest governance, as experienced mostly by women, have not been adequately addressed.”


In general, in both provinces, women’s economic work involves working in rice fields, gardens, harvesting and processing coffee beans, cassava, palm sugar, bananas, sticky rice, making handicrafts, selling and marketing products. Their domestic duties include cooking, cleaning, shopping and caring for their children and husbands, often with the help of their daughters. They work longer hours than men.

Men work in gardens, rice fields and manage livestock. Their domestic duties involve cleaning the house and washing their own clothes with the help of their sons.

In Lampung, two dominant social forestry permits exist: community-managed forests (hutan kemasyarakatan) and community-based plantation forests (hutan tanaman rakyat), the research demonstrated.

Reform practices in Lampung have not contributed to significant transformation of gender norms. Regardless, women’s participation in decision-making at the household and community levels is increasing, but limited.

Growing earning potential is making it more probable that girls will achieve higher levels of schooling. Child marriages have decreased. Women feel safe and secure in managing the land as they no longer fear authorities.  This means they can contribute to sustainable forest management by replanting trees to protect them from extinction and earn income from non-timber forest products, which cover their living expenses. Another benefit observed in these communities is that the number of men who temporarily migrate is lower due to more secure tenure rights.

In Maluku, researchers observed a greater number of customary forests (hutan adat), and local communities continue to search for forest tenure reform schemes that can protect their tenurial rights to forest lands and resources.

Forest tenure reforms in both Lampung and Maluku have not changed women’s domestic and social roles, Siscawati said.

“Nevertheless, the increase in girls’ education, along with increasing income, could contribute to changing gender norms in the future and would allow more women to actively participate in activities related to forest management.”

The research supported by this work was undertaken as part of the CGIAR Research Programs on Policies, Institutions, and Markets (PIM) led by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), and Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA) led by CIFOR.  CIFOR’s ‘Global Comparative Study on Forest Tenure Reform’ was funded by the European Commission and the Global Environmental Facility (GEF) with technical support from the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). 

For more information on this topic, please contact Anne Larson at
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